KOTWICA v. ROSE PACKING CO. (March 22, 2011)

Teresa Kotwica was employed as a general laborer at the Rose Packing Company's facility on the south side of Chicago from 1996 to 2006. General laborers perform a number of functions and are purposely rotated through different positions on a regular basis. Rose adopted this work policy in order to be able to reassign workers easily as demand fluctuated and to minimize repetitive motion injuries. Rose also required its employees to have unconditional medical releases before returning to work after a non-work related injury. On the advice of her doctor, Kotwica had a total hip replacement in late 2005. She tried to return to her job after 12 weeks leave, but her doctor included several conditions on her work authorization letter. Rose's in-house physician also conducted an evaluation but could not give her an unconditional clearance. Rose terminated Kotwica's employment in March of 2006 in accordance with its policy. Kotwica brought suit alleging that Rose violated theAmericans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Judge Lefkow (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to Rose. Kotwica appeals.

In their opinion, Circuit Judges Cudahy and Rovner and District Judge Adelman affirmed. The Court noted that the district court considered only one of the three requirements of a prima facie case -- whether Kotwica was a qualified individual with a disability. The ADA, at the time, defined a "qualified individual" as an individual with a disability who can perform the "essential functions" of her position. In order to qualify as a person with a disability, Kotwica must show that she had an impairment that limited a major life activity, that she had a record of such an impairment, or that Rose considered her to have such an impairment. She cannot. First, she denies having an impairment. Second, she failed to show that she has a record of an impairment. Third, she failed to show that Rose believed that she suffered from an impairment that substantially limited her ability to work. On this third prong, the Court stated that Kotwica had to produce evidence that Rose thought she was disqualified from a broad category of jobs. That is not what the record shows. Rose only considered her precluded from a general laborer’s job because she was unable to perform the entire job rotation. The ADA does not require an employer to create a new job that consists only of a subset of an employee's prior position.